Good Commercials Can Make for Bad Medical Choices

You've seen the commercials.  The people talking about their complex cancer and how a certain healthcare organization worked with them to get healthy again, with soft, soothing music, muted colors and grateful families crowded around.

They're interesting, yes, but not if they force you to make bad treatment decisions, based on the advertising.

For that's what it is, pure advertising.  I've read that this self-same cancer hospital only treats certain cases with a high chance of success, to make their stats look better than other similar organizations.

"Medical testimonials on the Internet and elsewhere present powerful personal stories and useful information, but they can also be dangerous to your health if distracting, irrelevant information leads to inappropriate treatment decisions, say researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as reported by

"We grow up learning from stories and we often identify with the people or characters telling those stories," Melanie C. Green, assistant professor of psychology, in UNC's College of Arts and Sciences, and one of the authors of the study, told "So we are not used to stepping back and analyzing the information, especially in the context of complex medical conditions and treatment options."
She went on to say that consumers tend to give more credibility to testimonials coming from people with whom they have something in common, "even though some kinds of similarities may be irrelevant for the decision at hand."
She gives as an example someone who loves classical music and "reads an online or magazine testimonial about a cleaning product written by another classical-music lover, so he or she is more likely to believe it is a good product, even if the classical-music connection has nothing to do with it."
Let's face it, if you or someone you love is seriously ill, you want to believe the hopeful stories that come out of these commercials. But you need to know that while they're real, you may not know the whole story. 
"Personal stories can often provide valuable perspectives on medical conditions, as long as consumers recognize that irrelevant factors can distract them, resulting in decisions based on a 'gut feel' for the storyteller's credibility, rather than whether the data are accurate and applicable to a specific situation," Green told



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